Monday, March 18, 2013

Deep litter and pigs

I've been trying a deep litter system for housing the pigs in the winter, and it's been 5 months since I filled the barn.

Here's what it looked like in October when I was filling the barn: 


Deep litter barn for pigs, Oct
The chips weren't absolutely dry, but they were pretty dry and fresh.  They were random trees species chipped by tree service companies, leaves, needles and all.
Deep litter for pigs, Nov
After a month the litter is still in pretty good condition; it's still pretty dry but it's working as it should.  Areas where they sleep are the driest; they've pretty much decided to dung and urinate in a particular corner, and that's pretty wet, but not too much. 
Deep litter for pigs, Jan
 
In January, 90 days in, I'm starting to see a damp layer over the entire surface, but a few inches down it's dry and fluffy.  In the picture above I'm turning the litter with the excavator; I put a wall down the center of the building to provide a farrowing area under roof, and that makes it hard to drive the tractor through as originally planned.  The trackhoe turns the litter in the barn in about 20 minutes. 
Deep litter for pigs, March - 150 days in. 
 The bedding is damp on the surface at the open ends of the barn.  It's dry about 6" below though, and given that it's 150 days into this, I'm pretty surprised.   

Deep litter for pigs, Dunging area
 The dunging area continues to be the hardest hit; it's pretty damp down about 18" or so.  very near the concrete slab there is a little bit of dry bedding, but at this point I'm pretty sure that I'm going to have to add another 10 or 15 yards of chips to this area. 
Deep litter for pigs, sleeping area
 The sleeping area is in very good shape, actually.   Not particularly wet; the chips are still composting and providing warmth for the pigs, which I would have expected to stop in a couple of months, but it hasn't -- it's 90 degrees F 4 inches below the surface. 
 The paper that I used as inspiration for this bedding method kept the pigs inside for the entire stay; in this case the pigs have access to a paddock where we feed them the fruits and vegetables, and you can see the path to the paddock in the upper right hand corner of the picture above.   I mention that because the chips there are also fairly wet -- that's mostly water that drips off the pigs as they come in from the rain and talk up the path. 
 This is the dunging area, with the top 6" or so scraped off.  chips are wet, but the dung isn't penetrating all the way down.  A little exploring with the trackhoe...
 shows a layer of dry chips near the slab.  Not bad. 

 This is the path into the barn -- pretty muddy, but as the picture below shows, the wet penetration is only about 6"-- there's 2' of dry chips under there. 
 When I turn the bedding it steams and heats up for the next few days -- and the little pigs really like that.   Any area that I turn they'll immediately occupy and dig themselves into the warm chips. 

I'm about a month away from putting the pigs back out on pasture, and so far so good.  I haven't had to change the bedding in 6 months, and the bedding is breaking down via composting over the winter.  I've turned the bedding about once a month to keep it in good condition, and there is no noticeable smell (other than the exposed manure at the dunging area), which I would have expected from 5 months of manure -- the wood chips seem to be absorbing the manure, and the composting action is actually making it more comfortable for the pigs. 

I'm going to guess that the chips are about 40% composted at this point.  If I wanted to empty this barn and use the resulting soil for planting I'd say it'll be ready in mid April to early May.  When I get done with this I'm going to test the soil and see what it's like.  I suspect it'll be pretty good planting soil. 

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I am so jealous. I would love to have that black gold to put in my (mostly clay) garden area.